Pool Cleaner Frees 2 As Armed Siege Ends — (The Miami Herald)

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The Miami Herald (FL)

December 31, 1991

Author: JODI MAILANDER And SCOTT HIGHAM, Herald Staff Writers

A swimming-pool cleaner bitter over losing business fired shotgun blasts at a competitor Monday, chased him down Fort Lauderdale’s beachfront highway and holed up in a liquor store with two hostages before giving up, witnesses and police said.

The violent rivalry between the former pool-cleaning partners blocked Las Olas Boulevard for an hour. Tourists peeked from hotel balconies as a man identified by police as Robert Ira Ashenfelter, 51, wildly fired his 12-gauge from inside Plaza Liquors. Buckshot shattered car windows and ricocheted into the Intracoastal Waterway down the street. Even so, the only one injured was Fort Lauderdale officer Michael Dew, whose head was grazed by flying glass.

“I knew this guy meant business,” said officer William Johnston, the first to arrive. Ashenfelter’s target, according to a confession police said he made later, was his former business associate: Brian Kelly.Kelly, 30, said he quit his job as vice president of Ashenfelter’s Rainbow Pool Services & Repairs about four months ago. He opened his own business — Shamrock Pool Services — and began serving many of Ashenfelter’s old customers. Ashenfelter complained to police that Kelly had taken $25,000 worth of business with him when he left. Later at the police station, Ashenfelter mangled a soda can and tried to slash his wrists. He failed and was put in an isolation cell at City Jail.

Kelly said he has known his former partner for more than seven years. They both live in North Lauderdale. After their falling out, Kelly said, he tried to avoid Ashenfelter.”I was just trying to make a living,” he said. Monday, he couldn’t avoid him: They got jobs cleaning pools on the same street at the same time. Sunbathers at the King Henry Rooms on Windamar Street said Ashenfelter appeared calm as he cleaned the small pool.The gray-haired businessman climbed into his Isuzu pickup truck and was leaving when he noticed Kelly’s Ford Bronco parked across the street at The Three Suns hotel.Witnesses said they heard Ashenfelter curse at Kelly, then pull a shotgun from his truck.

He panicked and opened fire from inside the store, police spokesman Ott Cefkin said. He blew three holes in the plate-glass window. Nearly two dozen officers, a SWAT team and an armor-plated tank-type truck surrounded the one-story liquor store.

Ashenfelter told his hostages — Ziss and store owner Leonard Suppes — that he was “going to take care of business with these cops,” according to a police report. He carried two boxes of ammunition, Cefkin said. He fired at least six times. Buckshot shattered the windows in his truck and a police car, and pelted the soda machine and two cars parked near a boat rental business across the street.Mandra Frenc, 38, the owner of a travel agency next door, ducked under her desk but kept taking calls from customers. “I just told them, ‘I can’t talk right now,’ ” she said. “Oh, I was afraid. Very much.”About 12:55 p.m., liquor store owner Suppes was released unharmed after he told Ashenfelter that he suffered from a heart condition and wasn’t feeling well.

Alone in the store, Ziss and Ashenfelter shared a Bacardi rum and cola. “That’s him, that’s my husband,” a shaken Sara Ziss said later. “That’s his personality. He’s always been like that, cool. “Five minutes after Suppes was released, Ziss was also let go. Ashenfelter fired two more shots before a hostage negotiator coached him into surrendering. “He was very agreeable,” said Sgt. Terry Haskins, who talked to Ashenfelter over a cellular phone. “He said he was depressed and on medication, Prozac.

He said he didn’t want to hurt anybody.”Suppes, the store’s owner, was so shaken that he went home and straight to bed.”I went through this twice,” he said, shaking his head. In August 1985, Plaza Liquors store clerk Richard Eugene West was beaten to death by a man wielding a bottle. Monday evening, police charged Ashenfelter with two counts of attempted first-degree murder for his attacks on Kelly and the police officer. He also was charged with two counts of aggravated assault on the liquor store’s owner and manager, and one count of discharging a firearm in an occupied dwelling. As detectives questioned the pool cleaner about 4:30 p.m., Ashenfelter asked for a soda. He finished the drink and suddenly ripped the can in half, trying to slice his arms. Medics bandaged superficial cuts.”He’s been under a lot of stress lately,” Cefkin said.Herald staff writers Naftali Bendavid and Ronnie Greene contributed to this report.

ALAN FREUND / Miami Herald StaffAFTER THE ORDEAL: A police officer, left, talks to Terry Ziss, center, and Leonard Suppes, who were hostages at Plaza Liquors.
photo: Police officer with Terry Ziss and Leonard Suppes, Robert Ira Ashenfelter (b); map: where shooting occurred in Fort Lauderdale; color photo: Mike Dew is photographed (b)

Copyright (c) 1991 The Miami Herald
Record Number:  9103260129